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The Globe and Mail

Budget watchdog returns fire while Tories fatten war chest

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page appears before the Commons government operations committee in Ottawa on Feb. 1, 2011.


1. 'Misinformed' ministers. Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, says he doesn't take the Conservative government's attacks on his integrity or analysis "personally or emotionally." He is used to it.

And so it was Tuesday that Treasury Board President Stockwell Day led the charge, lashing out at Mr. Page in answer to questions and criticism by Liberal MPs that the government's deficit numbers were out to lunch.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty also got in on the act, suggesting Mr. Page misrepresented his numbers.

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Mr. Page told The Globe he has met Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Day and that "they are good people." But, he added, they are dead wrong in the way they presented the facts.

"Reading the response from Minister Day in the blues [the early draft written record of debate in the Commons]- and Minister Flaherty as well - it appears to me that he has been misinformed about the current PBO analysis," Mr. Page said.

The attack on his credibility came during exchanges Tuesday between Liberal MPs Siobhan Coady and Ralph Goodale, the deputy leader, and the two senior Harper ministers.

"An International Monetary Fund report confirms what the Parliamentary Budget Officer has been saying that the Conservative deficit projections are all wrong," Ms. Coady charged. "Both the IMF and the PBO say the country is in deficit for the next five years."

Mr. Flaherty didn't like that, suggesting Ms. Coady had not read the report correctly. The IMF, he said, found that the government is "on track" and the budget will be balanced in the "medium term."

But it was Mr. Day who took real umbrage at Mr. Page, accusing the budget watchdog of being off by "1,000 per cent" on his projections as to how many public servants would be retiring each year as part of the government's deficit-fighting plan.

"If he is off by 1,000 per cent on that number that is very easily proven," Mr. Day said, "what is he off on all the other numbers he is talking about?"

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Although Mr. Page had not been watching the daily theatre in the Commons, he did review the transcripts, noting that Ms. Coady and Mr. Goodale "stated the content" of his reports "correctly" and Ministers Day and Flaherty did not.

To prove it, he goes through the numbers - simply and methodically.

"The fiscal projections indicate that over the next five years the IMF staff project federal deficits of $144-billion; PBO is projecting $139-billion; and Finance Canada is projecting $107-billion. Like PBO, the IMF is projecting deficits each year over the next five years. Like the PBO, the IMF is saying there is a structural federal deficit in Canada - meaning that even when Canada gets back to its estimated potential economic output level, there will be a deficit," he wrote in a lengthy email.

"These projections and analysis are at odds with Minister Flaherty's position which states there is a plan in place to achieve balance and there is no structural deficit," he said, adding that parliamentarians need to debate the government's plan in "the context of fiscal unsustainability."

2. Fundraising juggernaut. The numbers are in and money talks. The political fundraising numbers for the fourth quarter of 2010 show Stephen Harper's Conservatives out-raising and out-pacing their competitors

Are they bragging about it? You bet.

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"We raised $5.2-million in the fourth quarter of 2010 versus $4.8-million in 2009 - making this our largest quarter since 2008, which was an election year," a Conservative official told The Globe. "We raised more than the other parties combined in the fourth quarter of 2010. We also had more contributors than the other parties combined."

Oh - and just to rub it in - the Tory spokesman added: "I'd also note that it looks like 2010 will see a $3-million (approximate) drop for the Liberals from their 2009 numbers."

No wonder the Prime Minister has said he will campaign in the next election on abolishing taxpayer-funded subsidies to political parties. Currently, the parties receive about $2 for every vote cast for them in the last election each year.

The Liberals, meanwhile, raised $2.3-million in that quarter from just over 20,000 contributors. Compare this to the fact that the Conservatives had over 41,000 contributors and it's no wonder the Liberals did not comment on the latest war-chest figures.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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